Conservation groups join forces to ramp up efforts against wildlife crime
By Clifton Movirongo.
The Namibia Nature Foundation (NNF) and Conservation Strategy Fund (CSF) recently announced a long-term operational partnership focused on better comprehending the current state of knowledge about the illegal wildlife trade (IWT), and the economics of IWT in southern Africa.
The partnership is especially important now as both agencies work to justify the investments being made and ensure that the benefits generated are greater than the costs and that economically viable solutions are being implemented.
The Executive Director at NNF, Angus Middleton, explained that the efforts have been relatively successful, slowing down the rate of poaching of rhinos and elephants, and increasing the number of arrests for activities related to these types of crimes.
However, Middleton added that the investments are being made with little information on the costs of IWT and the benefits being generated by curbing it.
This comes after the foundation revealed that IWT is the world’s fourth-largest illegal transnational activity, generating between US$7 and US$23 billion every year, and poses a major threat to the iconic wildlife species of southern Africa.
“Wildlife crime undermines the economic prosperity of countries and communities in the region, deteriorating their natural capital, social stability and cohesion, and threatening sustainable economic development, including the erosion of benefits derived from legal nature-based enterprises like tourism,” Middleton said.
The partnership continues joint efforts to combat ongoing threats to the wildlife population as it represents an important step in the fight against wildlife crime countrywide.
On the other hand, increasing international demand and depleting wildlife populations in other parts of the world have led to a surge in wildlife poaching, which in turn has led to the loss of high-value species, such as elephants, rhinos, and pangolins, and concern about ecosystem impacts and associated economic losses.
In addition, Middleton confirmed that as a response to this surge in wildlife crime, a diverse range of public and private actors have ramped up efforts to curb IWT, nationally and across borders.
The amalgamation of the critical work was supported by United States Agency for International Development (USAID) /Southern Africa through its VukaNow Activity. VukaNow also supports novel and innovative approaches to combating wildlife crime, particularly through the use of purpose-built technology and wildlife forensics and oversees a robust grant facility to accelerate specific targeted interventions to address wildlife crime.
With this in mind, NNF and CSF piloted and completed a cost-benefit analysis (CBA) tool in May 2021, to support combating IWT in the country, while considering the new challenges raised by the sudden drop in tourism and increasing poaching risks in the context of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Juliette Perche, an Environmental Economist at NNF explained that the results of this economic study show that considerable investments are being made toward curbing IWT.
“The economic cost of curbing IWT was conservatively estimated at N$2 billion over ten years, with average yearly costs of about N$250 million across government, private sector, and communal conservancies,” she added.
Perche further lamented that the benefits of curbing IWT are ‘significant and critical’ to the country’s economy. She said over the next ten years, the net benefits generated from protecting rhinos and elephants – including all tourism businesses benefiting from the presence of wildlife species – could amount to N$18 billion for the Namibian economy, assuming the current situation remains stable.
On the one hand, the NNF economist argued that if investments in wildlife protection and fighting wildlife crime were to stop, the country could expect economic losses of about N$5.4 billion over ten years. On the other hand, she said if poaching was curbed significantly, economic benefits could increase by more than N$3.7 billion over ten years.”
According to Tania Briceno, an economist at CSF, “The CBA shows that it makes economic sense to invest in curbing illegal wildlife trade. Even though this study included primarily local financial benefits associated with protecting rhino and elephant populations, the results were very clear – benefits greatly outweigh costs.”
The economist continued that in the context of stringent government budget constraints and pressures, it is important to ensure that IWT-curbing initiatives can be sufficiently funded and that there is cooperation among actors to reap the collective benefits of a healthy wildlife population.
“The tool created in this project can forecast economic impacts based on different poaching rates, wildlife population size, tax rates, and prices. Through this project, NNF and CSF hope to raise awareness on the value of fighting IWT, and on the use of economics to fight IWT for better decision-making,” she concluded.